Families blindsided, disappointed by block of burn pit legislation

Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 2:46 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWNY) - Lawmakers and families say they were left blind-sided and disappointed by a Republican block on a bill in the U.S. Senate which would have expanded medical coverage for millions of combatants exposed to ‘burn pits.’

That includes Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has been a strong advocate of the bill. Just a month ago, 25 of the 41 Republicans who blocked the bill’s passage this week supported it.

As to why, Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania has been outspoken on the Senate floor about how the bill would create $400 billion in unrelated spending by moving it from the discretionary to mandatory category.

He’s offered a proposal to help fix that concern, but Gillibrand said she’ll continue to fight.

“They (service members) deserve every bit of health care and every bit of support they need when they come home. These are benefits they have already earned and we need to do right by them,” Gillibrand told 7 News Friday.

The Republican block hit home for Michael Britton of Parishville.

His nephew, Carthage native Sgt. Ryan Mason, died January 28, 2021, after a long battle with esophageal cancer - an illness that took around a decade to diagnose. His family says it was related to military related toxic exposures from burn pits during his tour in Iraq.

After coming home and dealing with headaches and a slight cough, Sgt. Mason went to the Veteran’s Administration for help.

“He seeked help out, and they really had no idea totally what was going on,” Britton recalled Friday.

He is not happy with the Senate.

“To have someone react to something really close like the burn pits, that they know for a fact, and know there’s a possibility that these soldiers, these heroes have to deal with day-by-day - and not have the support from support from the people they actually put into Congress.”

The bipartisan measure would have expanded medical coverage for millions of combatants exposed to toxic burn pits during their service. Burn pits were collections of garbage, construction debris and waste that were lit on fire using jet fuel - it’s how the U.S. military got rid of its trash in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sgt. Mason’s mother, Maureen, said the move by Republicans was a shame, and a terrible way to pay back our country’s soldiers who have sacrificed their lives.

Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would try again Monday to advance the bill.

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